FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Cruel and Unusual Excuse

In order to stop the killing at Texas death row, the European Union on Tuesday, through the office of its Presidency, asked the Governor of Texas to declare a death-penalty moratorium. But the Governor’s reply was quick and flippant. He did nothing to stop the 400th killing Wednesday evening, and it is becoming horribly apparent that he will do nothing to intervene in the three executions scheduled for next week — not even for Kenneth Foster who never killed anyone.

“We believe that elimination of the death penalty is fundamental to the protection of human dignity, and to the progressive development of human rights,” argued the EU. “We further consider this punishment to be cruel and inhumane. There is no evidence to suggest that the use of the death penalty serves as a deterrent against violent crime and the irreversibility of the punishment means that miscarriages of justice – which are inevitable in all legal systems ­ cannot be redressed. Consequently, the death penalty has been abolished throughout the European Union.”

In reply to the EU’s four carefully worded reasons, the Texas Governor answered that “Texans are doing just fine governing Texas.”

“Texans long ago decided that the death penalty is a just and appropriate punishment for the most horrible crimes committed against our citizens,” said the Governor in an oddly titled “Statement by Robert Black.” Does the Governor have in mind some joking reference to the film, “Meet Joe Black”? Speaking for the Governor, Mr. Black reminded the EU that the USA was born out of a revolution “to throw off the yoke of a European monarch.”

The reply by the Texas Governor is a logical embarrassment, because it waves around an issue not disputed by the EU while failing to provide any reason beyond state’s rights for why the long-ago decision by Texans should be considered reasonable.

When the Governor calls the death penalty “just and appropriate” we first wonder if he means to suggest that anything whatsoever can be just and in-appropriate. The construction of the Governor’s conjunction signifies a careless haste in thinking precisely in a moment when careful considerations are most called for ­ that is, on the eve of the state’s 400th execution.

If Texas has good reasons for deciding that the death penalty is a just basis for killing 400 people, and if the killing is to continue with an even broader scope to include people who drive cars for killers, then a “decent respect to the opinions of mankind” would compel the Governor to treat the matter with the logical seriousness that it deserves. Instead we get an anti-littering slogan on retreads: “Don’t Mess with Texas.”

Perhaps the Governor means for his readers across the Atlantic to infer that where a “most horrible crime” has been committed, a most terrible punishment is not to be considered cruel or unusual. An eye for an eye, a life for a life. If this is the Governor’s intent, we would prefer that he state his reasons more clearly so that the discourse may continue on open ground.

In matters of judgment and punishment we may allow the Governor a point, despite the atrocious rhetoric that he uses to put it across. The law does seem to demand a certain reciprocal retribution for wrongdoing. But in all other cases, the lawful currency of punishment is put in terms of cash damages or some manner of restricted freedom, up to and including life in prison. If we don’t literally take an eye for an eye, on what basis do we decide to take a life for a life? Texas has enough prisons to hold 400 killers for life.

The Governor’s failure to state the case more clearly not only deflects dialogue on the second point raised by the EU; it also serves to fog the fact that the Governor completely evades the other three issues raised. If Texas takes the position that death for death is just, based on the horribleness of the crime, where does Texas stand on the other three issues raised by the EU?

Does Texas not believe that an eventual end to the death penalty is demanded by “the protection of human dignity, and to the progressive development of human rights”? The Governor’s reply to the EU waves the bloody shirt of a 230-year-old war, but what about the progressive evolution of law in the USA since that time? Didn’t Texas and USA follow several European examples in the abolition of slavery for example? Is the Governor suggesting that such monumental achievements of legal progress in Texas will require the world to apply the same methods that put an end to slavery?

As for the third point raised by the EU, where does Texas stand on the question of deterrent effect? Does the Governor ease his own conscience by thinking about deterrence or not?

And what about the grave problem of irreversibility?

Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 for starting a fire that killed a person. But the Texas Governor refused to consider expert reviews declaring that the fire could not have been arson in the first place (Mills and Possley, Chicago Tribune, Dec. 9, 2004).

Ruben Cantu went to his execution in 1993 claiming that he had been framed. A dozen years later, both his accomplice and a witness now say Cantu spoke the truth (Olsen, Houston Chronicle, July 24, 2006).

Carlos De Luna was killed by the State of Texas in 1990, but there is good reason to believe that another man was the more likely killer (Possley and Mills, Chicago Tribune, June 25, 2006).

“I’m an innocent black man that is being murdered,” said Shaka Sankofa (Gary Graham) before his execution in June of 2000 (Wikipedia).
In the case of Kenneth Foster — who is today on a hunger strike in protest of his scheduled execution next Thursday ­ the State of Texas does not even claim to be executing a killer. Foster drove the car that a killer rode in. The killing was impromptu and took place about 80 feet from the car. Foster was not part of any conspiracy to murder (Editorial, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Aug. 19, 2007).

As the EU says, mistakes in human judgment are inevitable. Does the Governor believe that Texas is infallible? A decent respect for world opinion requires the Governor to answer the question as if the moral life of his state depended upon it.

By what principles in the 21st Century does the Governor carry his conscience when he acts as if carefully planned killings are necessary to his lawful rule?

His reply to the EU, that he executes people because the people of Texas long ago made up their minds to let him, displays a cruel and unusual disrespect toward the ongoing discourse that conscionable governance requires.

GREG MOSES is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. His chapter on civil rights under Clinton and Bush appears in Dime’s Worth of Difference, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. He can be reached at: gmosesx@prodigy.net.

 

More articles by:

Greg Moses writes about peace and Texas, but not always at the same time. He is author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. As editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review he has written about racism faced by Black agriculturalists in Texas. He can be reached at gmosesx@gmail.com

August 16, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
“Don’t Be Stupid, Be a Smarty”: Why Anti-Authoritarian Doctors Are So Rare
W. T. Whitney
New Facebook Alliance Endangers Access to News about Latin America
Ramzy Baroud
Mission Accomplished: Why Solidarity Boats to Gaza Succeed Despite Failing to Break the Siege
Larry Atkins
Why Parkland Students, Not Trump, Deserve the Nobel Peace Prize
William Hartung
Donald Trump, Gunrunner for Hire
Yves Engler
Will Trudeau Stand Up to Mohammad bin Salman?
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Morality Tales in US Public Life?
Vijay Prashad
Samir Amin: Death of a Marxist
Binoy Kampmark
Boris Johnson and the Exploding Burka
Eric Toussaint
Nicaragua: The Evolution of the Government of President Daniel Ortega Since 2007 
Adolf Alzuphar
Days of Sagebrush, Nights of Jasmine in LA
Robert J. Burrowes
A Last Ditch Strategy to Fight for Human Survival
August 15, 2018
Jason Hirthler
Russiagate and the Men with Glass Eyes
Paul Street
Omarosa’s Book Tour vs. Forty More Murdered Yemeni Children
Charles Pierson
Is Bankruptcy in Your Future?
George Ochenski
The Absolute Futility of ‘Global Dominance’ in the 21st Century
Gary Olson
Are We Governed by Secondary Psychopaths
Fred Guerin
On News, Fake News and Donald Trump
Arshad Khan
A Rip Van Winkle President Sleeps as Proof of Man’s Hand in Climate Change Multiplies and Disasters Strike
P. Sainath
The Unsung Heroism of Hausabai
Georgina Downs
Landmark Glyphosate Cancer Ruling Sets a Precedent for All Those Affected by Crop Poisons
Rev. William Alberts
United We Kneel, Divided We Stand
Chris Gilbert
How to Reactivate Chavismo
Kim C. Domenico
A Coffeehouse Hallucination: The Anti-American Dream Dream
August 14, 2018
Daniel Falcone
On Taking on the Mobilized Capitalist Class in Elections: an Interview With Noam Chomsky
Karl Grossman
Turning Space Into a War Zone
Jonah Raskin
“Fuck Wine Grapes, Fuck Wines”: the Coming Napafication of the World
Manuel García, Jr.
Climate Change Bites Big Business
Alberto Zuppi - Cesar Chelala
Argentina at a Crossroads
Chris Wright
On “Bullshit Jobs”
Rosita A. Sweetman
Dear Jorge: On the Pope’s Visit to Ireland
Binoy Kampmark
Authoritarian Revocations: Australia, Terrorism and Citizenship
Sara Johnson
The Incredible Benefits of Sagebrush and Juniper in the West
Martin Billheimer
White & Red Aunts, Capital Gains and Anarchy
Walter Clemens
Enough Already! Donald J. Trump Resignation Speech
August 13, 2018
Michael Colby
Migrant Injustice: Ben & Jerry’s Farmworker Exploitation
John Davis
California: Waging War on Wildfire
Alex Strauss
Chasing Shadows: Socialism Won’t Go Away Because It is Capitalism’s Antithesis 
Kathy Kelly
U.S. is Complicit in Child Slaughter in Yemen
Fran Shor
The Distemper of White Spite
Chad Hanson
We Know How to Protect Homes From Wildfires. Logging Isn’t the Way to Do It
Faisal Khan
Nawaz Sharif: Has Pakistan’s Houdini Finally Met his End?
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Versus Journalism: the Travails of Fourth Estate
Wim Laven
Honestly Looking at Family Values
Fred Gardner
Exploiting Styron’s Ghost
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail